Disgraced former Congressman Blake Farenthold submitted his resignation as lobbyist for the Calhoun Port Authority, officials announced Thursday.
Farenthold submitted his resignation to the port board in a letter dated Jan. 4, but it was announced by executive director Charles Hausmann during Thursday morning’s board meeting.
Board members did not comment about the resignation. Hausmann said only that Farenthold left “to pursue other opportunities.” Hausmann declined to comment about whether the board would hire another person for the position.
The Victoria Advocate asked for a copy of Farenthold’s resignation letter, but Hausmann said he would release that only after receiving an open records request. The Advocate viewed the letter after submitting the request.
Farenthold’s letter said he had made “significant progress” lobbying on behalf of the Calhoun Port Authority.
“When I accepted this position, which was offered to me, we all knew this would be a 2-2½ year process,” Farenthold wrote in the letter, on which he placed a copyright notice. “While I would like to see my work on these issues come to a successful conclusion, being a full-time employee of the Port Authority prevents me from pursuing other interests and opportunities.”
Farenthold said he would assist the port as a non-employee “when it becomes legal and ethical.”
All six port board members refused to comment about the resignation. Farenthold was not at the meeting and did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The board hired Farenthold in May to be its first full-time legislative liaison at an annual salary of $160,000. After news of the hiring became public, the port endured intense local, state and national criticism for hiring a congressman who had stepped down amid an ethics investigation.
The Advocate also filed a Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit against the port for failing to properly notify the public in advance of the hiring. That lawsuit remains pending.
John Griffin, the attorney representing the Advocate in its open meetings lawsuit, said Farenthold’s resignation was a good development, but the port board should have taken action earlier.
“He was not hired lawfully in the first place,” Griffin said. “While it’s good that Mr. Farenthold apparently realized the illegality of his hiring, it’s unfortunate that the port did not terminate him months ago.”
Griffin estimated the port had paid Farenthold’s about $105,000 since the former congressman was hired. The port also authorized spending up to $80,000 to contest the newspaper’s open-meetings lawsuit.
Farenthold was hired shortly after he resigned from the U.S. Congress, where he represented Texas’ 27th District. The Corpus Christi Republican left office amid an ethics investigation that started after he used taxpayer money to settle a harassment accusation. Farenthold’s former communications director accused him of sexual harassment, and the congressman resolved the 2014 claim with an $84,000 payment financed by taxpayers. Farenthold previously said he would repay taxpayers the $84,000, but later reneged on the promise.
The former lawmaker’s refusal to repay the $84,000 was a point of concern for many lawmakers of both parties and government ethics groups, including Citizens Against Government Waste. The nonpartisan, nonprofit investigates Republicans and Democrats alike for cases of waste, fraud and abuse.
Curtis Kalin, the group’s top spokesman, said Farenthold’s refusal to repay the money was “one of the most outrageous tales of waste and un-accountability we have seen in years.”
“Getting caught up in two consecutive scandals involving taxpayer money is not a very good track record,” Kalin said. “Perhaps he should find work in the private sector as opposed to things that involve taxpayer money.”
The Advocate’s lawsuit seeks to void the port’s hiring of Farenthold. Now that Farenthold has resigned, Griffin said, the Advocate would continue to seek an order declaring that the port violated the Open Meetings Act in numerous ways, as well as injunctive relief that would prohibit the port from similar violations in the future.
On Wednesday, an appeals court denied a motion filed by the Advocate that sought to stop payments to Farenthold while the lawsuit was pending, Griffin said. The lawsuit continues while the parties wait for a ruling from the 13th Court of Appeals. The port is appealing an August order from Judge Bobby Bell, of the 267th District Court, which ruled that the lawsuit should proceed.
Advocate reporter Kali Venable contributed to this report.